Competition is mostly a problem because of the way the game rewards richer, more veteran players. It’s also something that unfortunately stacks in the veteran favor for each link in the chain. Bfabs (PP1) require FE, FE (SME) requires C, C (INC) requires GRN, GRN (FRM) requires H2O, and all inputs (EXT/COL/RIG) require time and consumables. If one player buys DW (for the sake of simplicity, i’ll treat DW as the abstract representation of all consumables from here on out) at 50, and another player buys it at 40, then there is a 20% cost increase on each step. This results in an N*M type cost inefficiency where N is your extra cost and M is the number of links in the chain of production from raw resource to output. Whoever has the cheapest basic consumables is going to have immensely lower costs after 5 iterations of resource conversion (H2O -> GRN -> C -> FE -> BSE).
DW is never free, it always has a cost. I know you are aware that DW’s cost is a fraction of it’s own production. But cheaper DW results in cheaper everything. DW is the essence of all output. We are merely converting DW into other things throughout the universe. In some cases we convert DW to FE, other times DW to more H2O, and other times DW to some other basic consumable like WIN.
In a perfect universe, DW, RAT, and all other consumables will have a market with millions of units stockpiled on it, squeezing it into the tiniest of market spreads. The consumables index would be the life force of the universe, the anchor point that no player could ever budge due to the massive stockpiles of DW sitting on the market waiting. If there is anything that PU’s economy is based on, it’s DW.
In that perfect universe, the spread for DW may be 42-44. The lower that spread, the healthier everyone will be. Players could buy hundreds of thousands of units of DW while speculating a price increase.
With only a 5% spread between buy and sell, the market for DW will be completely shut out to any player who isn’t making DW at the full 5 experts on both resource extraction and FP. With only 4 experts, your operating costs will add up and you’d be better off buying from the market. You’d sell DW at a loss.
My point that I’m trying to get at is that as competition arises, profits get a little tighter, percentage wise, and experts are currently able to reduce costs throughout a chain by as high as 22% (equivalent to 28% increased efficiency) per link. The closer the market spread is to that 28.4%, the more shut out players are.
As players settle planets that are extremely high cost, but have high concentrations of resources, the market will shift. Players who can make H on a gas giant at 92% concentration with 5 experts will be able to convert 1 unit of consumables (some mix of DW/RAT/OVE normalized to 1) into 55.2 units of H each day. Players who make H on Umbra (17% concentration) with 0 experts will able to convert 1.36 units of consumables (due to inefficiency) into 10.2 units of H each day.
Suppose 4 players settle the H gas giant and start pumping out H. They create competition among themselves and the market prices drop. Players on Umbra will not be able to compete. Umbra will become a desolate, dead colony.
Now the gas giant has more capital requirements to invest into. It costs significantly more to set up a gas giant collecting H with 5 experts. That is no easy task. In fact, being that first person to settle that gas giant is probably a wonderful warm fuzzy feeling because now you have something that you can sell cheaper than anyone else and you have a wonderful sense of progression. As players progress, it will happen more and more. And as high tier planets get settled and developed, we still want new players to be competitive right? So we add building degradation. Building degradation is fundamentally a cost, or tax, that players must pay every so often for each building they own. That tax is a fixed cost of DW based products every X unit of time. I can very easily calculate that fixed cost for a planet and compare it to another planet of a different tier to get my overall average long term degradation fees. We could still pick out the best planet, considering all costs, and use that as the defacto supplier of one specific resource.
To loop your idea into the mix, I feel that adding in faction taxes, tariffs, export taxes, etc, is a form of adding a fixed cost to producing on an external planet. If the system is implemented, the only way to protect the new players is to have taxes, fines, etc, so large that the new players could establish an ecosystem within a small faction space where their operating costs are the lowest in the galaxy. Would that be a good thing though? What if players wanted to move out of that space, how do they get out of the newbie bubble where their price points are protected? The moment they leave their bubble, they are back into a new problem - mature markets cannot be entered so easily. The taxes will be able to be calculated in such a way that players could still figure out what the most optimal planet would be and settle that one. If taxes shift from month to month, this may cause frustration as players who invest significant time/money into an outpost only to find that new taxes caused them to be non-competitive.
There are two forces I’m talking about here that are long lasting forces which manipulate price ranges. The first is experts - who simply reduce the input consumables costs by increasing efficiency. Players with less experts can and will be shut out of a mature market. This would, in the worst case, cause players to have to invest large amounts of resources into building something at a loss for over 1000 work-days in order to achieve that 5th expert - then and only then could they compete in the market. This is, mechanically, a barrier-to-entry.
The second force is planetary extraction rates being higher in higher tier planets. Each time a lucrative planet is first settled, the market will begin to shift until the entire universe is sourcing the material from that planet. They could sell at a rate that is just below the profit margin of the next planet and own the market. Given 10 years, this would probably happen on PU.
Logistic challenges do play a huge part, especially now. This is why lumber is regionally priced - it is easy to chop down trees and ship wood short distances. It is incredibly cumbersome to ship wood long distances. Therefor being close to your market gives you a substantial edge in anything that has very low value/(weight|volume) ratios. In EVE, this was Tritanium’s role. It could be mined anywhere, but it was a beast to move. It was used in everything. To contrast PU, DW is used in everything but has an amazing value/weight ratio.
The big thing preventing an experienced player from destroying the T1 market right now for new players is the fact that they just aren’t. The MMs help a lot, but overall I’d say there aren’t a whole lot of veteran players dumping high efficient basic T1 materials on the market. No, instead they are using those basic consumables that they get so cheap to make T2, T3, or T4 products - and then selling those to each other and/or the market (Hello WR!). There are some exceptions, and each time a veteran player drops a payload of super cheap goods, they are potentially shutting players out of the market. This be the case for self sustaining players on Montem who are making FE. If they are using their own RIG to get Montem H2O (at an abysmal 11% efficiency), and using that to make their own DW, RAT, C and FE, they are never going to be able to compete with someone who is sourcing their H2O based products out of Etherwind or Boucher. There is simply no way.
I would propose that the competition problem can be alleviated by changing or removing experts and/or normalizing the extraction rates of all planets quite a bit. Experts could turn into a different role - instead of increasing efficiency, they could reduce efficiency while increasing productivity. This would allow players to use 5 experts to raise their operating costs per unit of output in order to raise their total output. Currently experts are in a limbo “we kind of regret” phase - you get more efficiency for being on a planet longer, but you get less efficiency due to building degredation? They cancel each other out. As for normalizing the extraction rates - that is a tough call. It is currently the biggest incentive to settle distant planets. With the concepts I listed above, even the slightest increase in efficiency of resource extraction rate can cause some planets to be completely worthless (namely the starting planets). The difference between a 20% and 28% extraction rate could, in some markets, be enough that the 20% extraction rate planet cannot compete. So perhaps the extraction rates should be normalized somewhere in the vicinity of a range of 25%. A gas giant produces 100% H while a rocky planet produces at 80%. Other avenues to explore here may include more diverse planets with strategic uses where logistical simplifications give enough efficiencies to counter the built in extraction rate bonus (eg having H2O and FE on one planet is better than great H2O and great FE on two planets far away from each other).
It all depends on how the devs want the game to work. Do they want RPG elements to it? EVE tried this, they have a skill called “Production efficiency” which reduces cost of building things by up to 10%. If you wanted to build anything seriously, you had to have that maxed. There was absolutely no way around it. RPG elements that give competitive price advantages are super dangerous. Do they want a universe that progresses over time and universally becomes more efficient? Well, then maybe the starter planets should all be very competitive H2O producers and the rest of the universe should be void of H2O. H2O makes DW, and DW is the life force of the universe. If the most lucrative place to make H2O is where you start, players can always make DW and stay competitive (not a very fun solution, but a good one). Do the devs want players to reach out to the edges of the galaxy to get resources? Then it’s a value, weight, volume, and FF efficiency tweak. Universal progression is much more involved and will likely attach itself more in the ship building phase. The first freighter class ship that can deliver mountains of resources to the furthest edges of the galaxy will be a game changer, especially if some fundamental resource is quite heavy.
Hope this wasn’t too long.